Utah’s Push to Lower Legal Limit of Intoxication

The legal limit is currently .08% in all 50 states. This uniform legal limit came as part of a Congress -approved amendment to the 2001 transportation appropriations bill that tied the legal limit into highway funds. In other words, a .08% legal limit was a condition precedent to a state receiving highway funds from the national government. However, there appears to be no reason states can’t reduce the limit even further, and there is little doubt that after Utah many other states will follow suit.

A Utah lawmaker is backing a change in Utah’s DUI law lowering the legal limit to .05%. Utah’s current legal limit is .08%. This change would make Utah the first state in the Union to reduce the legal limit from .085 to .055. In 2005 Michigan was the last state to reduce the legal limit to .08. Michigan’s legal limit goes back up to .10 in 2018.

The legal limit has continued to drop about every 10–15 years. In many states including Michigan in the late 70’s/early 80’s the legal limit it was .15%. Then, it became .10, then .08. We have been predicting a national .05% legal limit for several years, and now that Michigan’s drugged driving laws include every conceivable substance including caffeine, the only way to increase drunk driving arrests would be to reduce the legal limit.

But it’s not all about broadening the law enforcement net and bringing in more fines and costs; according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration drivers are impaired at a .05%. The belief on the part of some is that lowering the legal limit will increase traffic safety. Others believe that there can be no safe consumption of alcohol and therefore the only “safe” legal limit is zero tolerance.

Regarding Michigan’s OWI law (Operating While Intoxicated), there effectively is no lawful blood alcohol level in Michigan, but we also don’t have zero-tolerance. This is because it is illegal in Michigan to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs. This means a person can theoretically be impaired at any alcohol level, and a driver in Michigan can be convicted of intoxicated driving at any blood alcohol level. Thus, the term “legal limit” is misleading. Drivers in Michigan should not assume that if their bodily alcohol level is under .08 they are legally safe meaning they cannot be prosecuted.

Since President Trump is a non-drinker, it would not be surprising if his is the administration that takes the lead on this and that we are a .05 Nation by the end of 2018. This would increase the need for people to use caution while driving after having a drink, and make it easier for repeat offenses to happen as well. Know the facts, stay educated, and follow the law.

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